After a day of fighting the flu at a 5 star hotel and 2 days laying on the beach and regaining my summer glow, I’ve sat down, ordered a café con leche and jotted down what I’ve learned these past 57 days in Europe.
1. You can survive (while looking good) for 3 months on one backpack of clothes. I don’t know if it sounds like a lot or a little, depending on who you are, but when I’ve come across both kinds of shock either on how much I have or how little. To me, I change between the thoughts on a regular basis.
When I packed my things in Kennebunk preparing for my travels I thought of the most useful things I could bring with me – the things that could be worn over and over again, could be worn casually or dressed up, and could be tossed away if it came down to it. I also needed to be prepared for winter conditions and island weather leaving me a little unsure of what I should take and what I should leave. I finally made up my mind and packed 15 tops (5 long sleeved, 3 short sleeved, 3 tank tops, 2 sweaters & 1 blazer) of which I’ve thrown away one long sleeved shirt that had seen better days and I unfortunately left a tank top in Galway my first leg of the trip. However, I’ve survived.
As for the rest, I brought 3 pairs of pants (leggings [let’s just count them for pants as now, we may debate the actuality of these being pants later on], jeans, and a pair of black skinny jeans). The only pair that remains are the jeans – but they’re on about their last leg (har har) . . . they’ve seen wear & tear over the past 4 years and they’re wearing thin. I think they’ll make it to Scotland, but I’ll be lightening my load and tossing them away before I make it down to London at the beginning of April.
And I’ve been good! I swear . . . well, until 25 days in while I was in Austria. I cracked at the site of Zara & Mango (my two favorite stores in Europe). I bought a new pair of red pants, a black dress and a white sweater to add to my collection. It wasn’t a lot of extra stuff, but it definitely has made packing my bag a little tighter than usual. Totally. Worth. It.
I also had to buy a new pair of black pants along the way because my old ones ripped one day unexpectedly. I blame it o wearing them all the time. I blame it on constantly sitting crossed legged. I blame it on the fabric not being sturdy enough. Either way, they ripped beyond repair so I ventured to Zara and bought myself a new pair – that ripped a week later. Luckily I know how to sew & this rip was within my ability to fix. Thank you Kennebunk Middle School Home Economics!
And then the footwear. I obviously packed my Christmas present of LL Bean boots that have proven to be the best purchase ever (thanks Mo & Dad!) – they’ve kept me warm in this surprisingly chilly winter Europe has been experiencing this year. They’ve been a savior. I’ve also almost nearly destroyed another pair of boots that have been getting me around in a more fashionable way. I’ve had to super glue the soles to the shoes twice now, but I think they’ll make it to Scotland for the few weeks of volunteering and then they’ll be tossed as well. I also have somehow managed to stuff some heels and flowery flats in my bag as well. It’s a mystery how I do it – but every time I seem to fit it all back in there – and it’s always less than 15 kilos.
Next time I travel, I’ll really know how to pack smarter and lighter. But, for the first long trip of my life time – I think I’ve done a pretty good job.
2. You can sleep on airplanes, trains, floors, couches, and beds* that shouldn’t claim to be beds *and survive (even though a queen size mattress and down comforter is always preferable).
Over these past few months I’ve slept everywhere but outside on the dirt, but I’m not sure train station floors are far from it However, I have been lucky enough to have a roof over my head every night these past 57 days whether or not I have a bed. I’ve gotten some shut eye at various hostels (some with more comfortable beds than others), cheap budget hotels, snuggling in friends beds, on couches, on floors, on train “beds”, in seats on airplanes and trains, and on buses. Oh yes, and train station floors.
And from all these new sleeping arrangements, lack of sleep (deciding it’s best to just stay awake the whole night to catch a plane, train, or bus the next morning), has lead me to discovery number 3 . . .
3. You function better on 8 hours of sleep.
4. You can live without electricity for a week.
Even though I’ve grown up enduring winters in Maine, I have always been fortunate enough to have my electricity restored a few hours after its cut. So, to say the least, I had never experienced such a long term outage before.
The day I arrived in Montpellier, Julien greeted me at the station and let me know that his friends’ place where I’d be staying just had the power cut that day – but it should be back on by tomorrow. Only 5 days later and 4 cold night on the couch with no heat was something else. It also turned out to be the coldest week all winter in the South of France, just my luck.
If we were at their place by 5pm we needed to light the candles to have light. The water was cold, but I was able to bathe myself a couple times. Some of their friends also let us have a hot shower at their place during the week. I’d never been more grateful for hot water. The last night I was there I had never shivered so hard in my life, but I survived.
The week with the boys and no electricity made me appreciate more than anything the heat I am blessed to have any place I am now. I’ll never take electricity for granted again.
5. You can travel without stressing yourself out even when things go wrong.
It happens. I’ve been there. I’m sure we’ve all been there in some form or the other. We forget a document, a toothbrush, we lose money, we miss a connecting train, you get ripped off by a restaurant because you’re a tourist.
Things that used to get me rip roaring with rage I now just shrug my shoulders at and move on. In the great words of the Spanish people – tranquilo (or eassyyyy, as my brother might phrase it so nicely).
But really, what’s the fret? If things go wrong, they go wrong. Getting frustrated or upset only makes you feel worse, not the other person involved. So, I’ve learned to take the punches as they come, sit back and recognize the situation for what it is and accept it.
So far I’ve drowned my thousand dollar camera in coffee, missed connecting trains, had plans fall through, become ill with the flu while on a plane, and spent money on hotels and medicine I didn’t have planned. But, that’s life. It throws you curve balls and the best thing is to just give them your best swing.
6. You know how to take care of yourself when you’re at your lowest (even while lugging around 15+ kilos of bags).
Also, what I’ve learned *When you have an unknown rash on your back & stomach, don’t diagnose yourself – you’re probably wrong*
So far this trip I’ve dealt with allergies, common colds, sleep deprivation, temporary deafness, a 24-hour fever, and a rash on my back & stomach.
I guess I’m usually prone to sickness, but I feel like it’s been a constant battle these past 57 days. So when I feel 100% it’s amazing and rare. I try to take full advantage of these days when they roll around. As for everything, it’s all fairly common stuff – allergies, cold, fever, and sleep deprivation (1 major time change, constant traveling and change of beds). The only two things that slightly made me nervous were when a spotty rash started appearing on my body aaaaaaaaand when I was temporarily deaf for a few days.
Let’s start with the rash. It started on my back. Just one large, red spot. It was dry & itchy and as I watched it over days it started to form an oval shaped ring. I immediately started Google searching to see if I was going to die. Naturally.
From my results I diagnosed myself with ring worm. No big deal. I could get a cream and make it go away. So I looked it up and bought it at the pharmacy. A few weeks passed and there was no change – and it started to spread to my lower back, my sides, and my stomach. WHAT. THE. HELL?!?!? I really thought I may have been dying at this point. But while travelling, who was I supposed to talk to? So, I ignored it a little longer until I cracked in Italy. I decide I needed to find a doctor. I searched for an English speaking doctor in Florence (where I’d be next). I made an appointment for the day of my arrival and went to hear my diagnosis. I was fine.
Apparently what I had was called Pityriasis Rosea – a common, but not really heard of virus. Most people get it once in their lives and it goes away on its own. Oh, thank god. Within days it started to go away and now it’s completely gone. To say the least, I think just knowing I wasn’t dying put my mind to ease and I was able to heal all that much faster.
As for the deafness, I blame Salva 😉
I spent one weekend in Ancona, Italy visiting an old friend from university. He let me stay with his family and he showed me around his city. I arrived Friday and left on a Sunday. A quick visit, but so much fun. Saturday night Salva took me to the bar he works at – I spent the night chatting with him and his friends and dancing with some others. The music was booming from 10pm to 5am when they finally kicked the last customers out of the bar. By 6am we left and by 8am I had my bags and was on my train to Rome.
The next two days I could barely hear. There was a constant ringing in my ears; everything seemed muffled unless someone spoke too closely and a HIGH PITCHED sound wreaked havoc on my ear drums. Again, I went straight to Google.
These were symptoms of the obvious: loud music.
What was I to expect? Well, I should expect to hear this horrible ringing forever and it could possibly lead to deafness. Oh joy.
I accepted my soon to be deafness, the fact I’d have to learn sign language and that I’d never be able to hear music again. Then, three days later, I woke up and my ears were back to normal. I can say that I appreciate my hearing more than ever at this point. I don’t plan on venturing to places where the music is stupidly loud (or staying for 6 hours or more) and I plan to be gentle to my delicate eardrums in fear they won’t heal as easily again.
As for the other illnesses – I’ve found my way to the pharmacy and bought medications to help me get better. I’ve slept in later and when I had a fever I rented a hotel room and slept for almost 22 hours. Much needed rest at this point in my journey.
Looking back on it all I have learned to not Google symptoms of an illness, because most likely the diagnosis is bad. Keep it to the doctors to let you know what’s going on and hopefully they’ll lead you down the right path to stay healthy.
7. Your body wasn’t made for drinking loads of alcohol – no matter what kind. I’m pretty sure that statement sums it up. I don’t know how I used to party so much when I was “younger” hahahahaha As if I’m old now . . . but I just know I physically can’t do it. Which, in my opinion, is a good thing.
8. Museums are only interesting in small doses (same goes for monuments, castles, and other historical sites).
I love them all. I really, really do. But constantly for 57 days? No thank you. I’d rather stare into the sea or nap in a park or simply enjoy the food rather than spend another minute being a “tourist” and seeing all the things in the guide book. My brain hurts from all the information. There simply isn’t enough room to process it all in such a short period of time.
9. You’ve learned to be more carefree about plans, but know when to step up and make a decision.
This relates back to being more carefree and less stressed while traveling – but once in a place I’ve become even more laid back. For the most part, I really don’t care what we do. I really don’t. But, if there happens to be some time to make decisions, I’ve learned I sometimes have to step up and voice my opinion. Being so carefree isn’t always good at getting things done. There’s a nice combination between the two and I’m tryyyyying to perfect it as best as I can.
10. You enjoy trains more than you ever knew.
See previous post about traveling through Austria by train. I’d never felt such pure joy and giddiness.
11. Travelling alone is amazing, but visiting new places isn’t (even though travelling with someone can be fun & entertaining, too!)
One reason I decided to plan this 3 month solo trip was so I could prove to myself that I could do it. Alone.
I wanted to prove to myself that I could travel (by plane, train, bus or car) alone . . . that I could get my act together and not stress out over the little things that I could be alone for 3 months. Well, not actually alone, but alone, without a home, for these few months. I’ve done it. I know I have it in me. I’ve proven it to myself.
I’ve also learned that seeing new places isn’t all that great without having someone to share it with. I’ve been able to see friends along the way and create new memories with them which have been some of my most precious moments. I’ve made new friends and have created new memories with them, as well. But there have been some places I’ve been alone. Some places I’ve chosen not to reach out and make new friends. Some places I was just too tired and some places I just wanted to be alone.
The places where I was too tired to make friends was when I felt the most lonely. If I were travelling with someone I would never experience such strong emotions. But in the end it’s made me appreciate the time I’ve had with friends even more.
For me, being alone isn’t a bad thing. I actually enjoy it the majority of the time. But I’ve discovered that traveling around new countries, cities, and neighborhoods I’d rather share that with someone I’m close with, someone I know will appreciate the same things I do, someone I can glance at and they know what I thinking without even having to say a word. That’s what I’ve missed the most when I’ve been alone these past few months.
But, that’s what it’s all about. Learning. I’ve proven to myself that I can travel alone, but I’ve also learned that it’s not all I thought it was cracked up to be. Next time around, I’ll bring a companion.
12. Lastly, appreciate every moment for what it is – it’ll never be the same again.
No matter where you are in the world, appreciate what’s surrounding you.
I’ve had it tattooed on my wrist for 5 years now, “one day at a time.” But sometimes I forget even though it’s always staring me in the face. I like having the constant reminder. Step back. Take a deep breath. Take in what’s really around you. Feel it. Don’t forget it. Good or bad.
In this moment. This is how it is – it’ll never be such a way again. Loneliness will pass, and it will make you stronger. Happiness with always fill your heart when you look back on those moments, and help you get through the tougher times that are sure to come along.
But no matter how you remind yourself, a tattoo, a written note, a string around your finger, wrist or ankle – appreciate RIGHT NOW. It’s all we’ve got.